Controlling Rodents with IPM & Bell Products at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
With more than 1,400 rare and exotic animals and over 1,000 unique plant species, Florida's Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a big draw for tourists in the Sunshine State. Its beautiful botanical gardens and natural outdoor animal exhibits make the 120-acre park one of the top-rated zoo in the country. But, like most zoos, Jacksonville Zoo faces the challenge of keeping rodents under control in an environment where food, water and harborage are readily available. This, coupled with the need to keep animals safe and control techniques out of public view, demonstrates why zoos are one of the most challenging pest management operations any professional will encounter.
Zoo's Natural Outdoor Exhibits
Jacksonville Zoo, unlike northern zoos which have more indoor facilities, is a southern zoo where the emphasis is on outdoor exhibits in a natural environment. "The difference between northern zoos and southern zoos is the buildings and settings," Jacksonville Zoo's senior veterinarian, Dr. Nikolay Kapustin, pointed out. "In some zoos, there are old indoor buildings. Here there are more natural areas. In Florida, we don't have a lot of buildings. Where we have issues is outdoors, so rats tend to be the problem rather than mice which are more typical within buildings."
Rodent Control Takes IPM Approach
Jacksonville Zoo has implemented a rodent control program that addresses the problem from many different angles. "Historically there was a need for IPM," said Kapustin, who's been with the zoo for eight years. "Adopting that approach was the biggest thing." The zoo set up a number of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices that tackle rodent problems created by its many natural exhibits, the "24-hour dining" schedule of the animals, and its close proximity to the Trout River which borders the zoo. The first step was decreasing rodent harborage in outdoor exhibits as a way to reduce the resident rat population.
"We have issues outdoors with natural settings. Rats create burrows within the exhibits," Kapustin explained. "We have done a lot of renovation to get rid of rats in those areas. There were planter pockets, overhangs and lots of harborage originally. We've replaced dirt planters with stones or gravel and gotten rid of older, false rock systems that provided harborage." The next challenge was food. Jacksonville Zoo operates two full-size restaurants, a snack bar and an ice cream pavilion. The park services department keeps the grounds clean but the zoo had to eliminate feeding opportunities that created problems with rats. "The problem is with animal food, not human food," said Kapustin. "We used to have flamingo feeding that created a huge problem. That was discontinued which helped."
Food in Aviary & Primate Area Attracts Rats
Even with exclusion and sanitation practices, rodent control is particularly difficult in the aviary and primate areas, according to Dino Ferri, Curator of Herpetology, who supervises the rodent control services performed by the zoo's in-house technician, Steve Ussrey. "In the aviary, food is out all day. It's a buffet," noted Ussrey. "We still struggle with rats in there. We have good days and bad days. The problem is pests getting into the food trays in the aviary.
"Food in the primate area is scattered out in the yard to get the primates moving - hunting and moving about. This food is not just in a dish, so there's more area for rats to search out food." Because of the constant availability of food, Ussrey, a seasoned PMP who joined the zoo several months ago, set up a weekly baiting schedule to keep rats under control. "The safety of animals is our first concern," he stressed. "The challenge with baits is where we put the bait stations since we're are not allowed to bait in exhibits."
Servicing 365 PROTECTA Bait Stations
Ussrey's plan covers the entire grounds. Nearly 80 percent of the 365 PROTECTA and PROTECTA LP Bait Stations he services are located around the perimeter of buildings, the first line of defense. Because of the low risk of secondary poisoning, Ussrey uses Bell's CONTRAC BLOX near the animal areas. Around the zoo's restaurants, dumpsters and other facilities, he baits with FASTRAC and FINAL. Although he primarily uses live traps in the aviary, he has a few bait stations inside the River Valley Aviary, a two-story enclosed structure where birds fly about freely.
For now, Ussrey anchors bait stations by staking them into the ground. Since Bell introduced its Load-N-Lock Anchoring System, he plans to make the switch to eliminate the weight of patio blocks and because the Load-N-Lock keeps bait stations off the ground, especially when it's wet. "The Load-N-Lock makes opening up and filling the station with bait easier. They're really sweet," Ussrey added.
Ussrey's weekly service schedule lets him check some stations daily while others are checked every two or three days or less frequently. "Steve sees patterns, which areas need more watching," said Ferri. To complement baiting, Ussrey places Bell's T-REX Rat Snap Traps along the walls in areas where the animal keepers prepare food. "Steve makes sure they're set properly and the keepers monitor them. There are no snaps used in exhibits," Ferri added.
Full-Time In-House Pest Control
Having a full-time pest control technician on staff makes Jacksonville Zoo somewhat unique. "This is not the norm," said Kapustin. "There are not a lot of zoos out there that have their own pest control person and pest control responsibilities. But it is definitely the way to go." Kapustin approves what products can be used and looks at their potential impact on the animals.
"For smaller parks, cookbook might work but we found we could spend money better by creating an in-house pest control division," noted Kapustin, who also created a multi-department pest control team that meets quarterly to coordinate logistics. "I'm loving the pest control here," Kapustin added. "We're pleased with what's going on in pest control We do not have nearly the problem we once did. And we're not getting comments and complaints. That's a good barometer."